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Walker Sands Study: College students turn to TV and movies for understanding of consulting

Dylan Cinti

As the demand for consultants increases, professional services companies are working to fill the rapidly expanding employment pipeline. But recruiting young talent can be a challenge when so many college students view consulting careers through the distorting lens of popular entertainment.

A recent Walker Sands study of 500 U.S. college students found that of the less than half who report knowing what consulting firms do, more than one-third base that knowledge on media sources like “House of Lies” and “Up in the Air.”

Unfortunately for consulting firms, TV shows and movies like these often present an inaccurate – not to mention unflattering – picture of the consulting business. “House of Lies,” for instance, would have you believe a consulting job is all about insulting clients, while “Up in the Air” would convince you it’s actually about firing people. College students who watch these shows and movies and emerge with a skewed perception of what it means to work in consulting.

Not that “House of Lies’” writing team is to be blamed; their aim is to entertain. But the fact that so many college students base their awareness of consulting careers on entertainment points to a dearth of accessible information about what the field really entails.

Walker-Sands-Students-Perceptions-of-Consulting-Company-CultureThis awareness gap is a problem for consulting firms, especially as the need for young talent increases. Between 2014 and 2024, the demand for consulting services employment is projected to grow by 400,000 jobs. But as our study reveals, college students aren’t flocking to these roles: Only nine percent of those surveyed said they’d applied for consulting internships or jobs. And on a recent National Society of High School Scholars list of businesses millennials want to work for, only two consulting firms broke the top 100.

To debunk the media-borne myths surrounding consulting, firms should spearhead college outreach efforts that present young talent with an accurate and inviting picture of the opportunities a consulting career offers. For starters, this means emphasizing initiatives beyond the career fair, and promoting awareness through the channels students rely on most (such as professor recommendations and career centers.) It’s also never too early to start shaping perception: initiatives aimed at freshmen and sophomore college students can help ensure they don’t accept pop culture stereotypes as fact.

To learn more about how college students perceive the consulting industry – and what firms can do to better attract millennial talent – contact us to check out the full study, Where They’re Going, They Don’t Want Roadmaps: Gauging College Students’ Perceptions of Consulting Careers or watch the video.